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Heart of the Wounded - Chapter 16

Wolf opened his eyes. The feel of the air was warmer, so he immediately knew something was wrong. He looked around and discovered he was somewhere else. It was a place he recognized easily, even though it had been a long time since he had seen it last.

It was the land Ma Lir lived in, with the large full moon on the horizon, and the lush green hills. He was sitting on a rock, just like the first time he had had contact with the wolf spirit. Wolf looked forwards and saw a strange sight. Before him was a mirror image of himself, only this other self had glowing blue eyes and wolf’s tail and ears.

“Ma Lir?” Wolf asked.

“Yeah. What are you looking at?” the Wolf spirit answered, glaring.

“You’re human.”

“I’ve been stuck here for so long that I’ve started changing. This is all your fault.”

Wolf glanced down. Ma Lir walked forward to stand in front of Wolf.

“Why did you bring me here? You were supposed to be asleep,” Wolf spoke quietly without looking at the spirit.

“I woke up when I heard what you said. What was it again? That you were backing out of our deal,” Ma Lir growled.

Wolf looked up into the spirit’s eyes with a small amount of determination. “I’m not going to fight any more. With the Avatar back, I don’t need to.”

“Says you.” Ma Lir turned quickly and walked a few paces away before returning to the same spot. “Did it ever occur to you about what I am here for?”

“I…”

“It didn’t. You had completely forgotten about me. It’s human nature. Human fucking nature gets between me and my goal. It’s you, Moltov. Why did you say something as stupid as that? What the hell does the Avatar have to do with anything, with our goal?”

“It’s destiny. The Avatar’s destiny is to fight against the Fire Lord to put an end to the war.”

“Oh, it’s destiny,” Ma Lir mimicked. He grew really serious and grabbed a handful of Wolf’s hair and leaned forward, forcing their eyes to meet at close range. “Big whoop. I don’t give a rat’s ass if it’s destiny or something else. I’m on par with the gods. Why should gods give a damn about destiny?” Ma Lir let go, roughly and began walking around. “Who writes destiny anyway? No one does. Destiny does not exist.

“And even if it does, you want to know something? I know the Avatar. How do you think I got stuck with such a shitty job like guarding a stupid pact? A pact that the Avatar himself forged hundreds of centuries ago. Yeah, that’s a long ass time. Bet even you can figure this one out. I’ve dealt with the Avatar before. It’s not like I can’t do it again.

“But what about you? You say you want to stop me from doing my job, fulfilling my destiny, to use your words. But you have your own bone to pick with the bastard, don’t you?” Ma Lir had been talking at Wolf’s back for the last part of his speech. At the end, the wolf spirit pushed Wolf’s head off to the side and ripped the shirt. Claw-like nails dug into the flower brand.

Wolf hissed at the pain, but was helpless to do anything about it.

“Who was it who put this mark on you?” Ma Lir whispered in Wolf’s ear. “Who banished you from your home, where you had lived so happily for so long? Who left you for dead in my realm? Ozai, the Bastard, High Ass Wipe, himself. You came to us seeking revenge for that. What happened to it?”

Ma Lir pulled away again, tearing skin away as he pulled out his claws. Wolf whimpered, but the spirit continued, walking around.

“You got hurt a few times? That’s a fucking pathetic human excuse. One thing you and your weak human mind has never been able to understand is that sacrifices must be made. What’s a few moments pain for the accomplishment of your goal?”

“That’s not it,” Wolf hissed. “I can deal with the pain.”

“It isn't? Then what is?”

“I don’t know.”

“You gave up. That’s what it is. You rolled over and died. You listen to people telling you what you can and can’t do, and you fucking listened to them.” Ma Lir had walked steadily closer. Irritated, the spirit punched his human counter part in the face.

Massaging his knuckles, Ma Lir turned and walked away again, muttering “I can’t stand quitters.” He got louder when a thought came to him. “I think I’m going to leave you and go make a pact with another stupid human. One that’s stronger, more determined to reach the same goal.”

Smirking, Ma Lir turned to face Wolf again. “Maybe I’ll go talk to that kid you know. The one who’s father attacked him and tried to kill him. There’s gotta be some hate there. It’s perfect leverage.”

Wolf glared at Ma Lir. “Don’t you dare.”

“Wait, I think I’m missing something about that kid. Isn’t he…the bastard’s son? Yes, that’s what it was. You did something right in befriending the son of the Fire Lord, Moltov. He already trusts you, so I can go to him like this. Well, more like you.”

“Don’t go near him, Ma Lir!”

“Going to stop me? Oh, I’d like to see that. If he doesn’t want to support me, I suppose I could always ruin him, break his little human mind. I could even hold him ransom. Wait, his father tried to kill him. I’d be doing the prick a favor.”

Ma Lir was just quick enough to avoid the punch Wolf threw. The spirit grabbed Wolf’s shoulder and punched him hard in the ribs. Gasping for breath, Wolf slumped to the ground.

“You almost had it there. Tell you what, I’ll leave you here for a while. I need to stretch my legs.”

“Where are you going, Ma Lir?” Wolf demanded.

“Out.”

“You go near Zuko, or the other two, and I’ll kill you.”

“That’s not going to happen. I was just thinking I’d do a little sight seeing. A little scouting, actually. There might be a Waterbender who would serve me better, who knows? Now, stay here like a good little human.” Ma Lir was about to walk off when Wolf called out to him.

“Wait. Don’t leave me in the darkness.”

“Are you scared of it?” the spirit laughed. “No. I told you the first time, I’d let you stay here. That is, of course, if you can manage it.”

Ma Lir continued walking, laughing. As the wolf left, the moon sunk below the horizon.

“No!” Wolf shouted, looking around. “No, Ma Lir!”

Slowly, the light faded entirely, and the world Wolf was in went black.

……………

“Just where do you think you’re going, Wolf?” Iroh asked.

Ma Lir froze at the voice, forgetting that he wasn’t alone. He had been so close to slinking out the door undetected. Discovering the human’s pain sensation had been a surprise when he had woken up, but he had gotten used to it. It still pissed him off that he couldn't run freely like he wanted to, being forced to limp around with a stick, but it was better than nothing.

Ma Lir turned to face Iroh, who was seated by the small chess pieces on the table, shuffling through and attempting to translate Wolf’s notes on the game.

Apparently, another chore was going to be attempting to act like the pathetic human so he could sneak around better. “I was just going out for a bit.”

“You’ve been sleeping for a day and a half straight. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Ma Lir was tempted to punch the old man’s face into pulp, but that wasn’t something the pathetic human would do, so he wasn’t allowed. Plus he felt the presence of two other humans that would most likely hear and things would go to hell from there. Instead, he replied lightly, “I think the fresh air will do me some good.”

“You might be right.” Iroh glanced up. He nodded his head. “Don’t strain yourself too much. Try to make it back in an hour.”

“Sure.” Congratulating himself on his performance, Ma Lir headed out the door.

Jin slunk into the room. “Is Wolf up?”

“Apparently so.”

“Something’s not right about this.”

“That wasn’t Wolf.”

“It looked just like him. I don’t get it.”

“Leave it be, Jin,” Zuko advised, walking up behind her.

“Zuko,” Jin whined.

“I’ll follow him in a minute,” Iroh promised.

“I wanna go to.”

Iroh shook his head. “You two stay here in case Wolf comes back.”

“Wait, is it Wolf or not?”

“That Wolf won’t come back on his own. Our Wolf might if he comes to.”

“Oh. This doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know.”

“What about me, Uncle?” Zuko asked.

“You can stay here and make sure Jin stays out of trouble. And…maybe keep her entertained enough so that she doesn’t flood us with tea again.”

Jin smiled, trying to hide her embarrassment. Zuko put a hand on her shoulder. “Good luck, Uncle.”

Iroh nodded, standing with a groan. I’m getting to old for this, he thought as he set off to follow the Wolf look alike.

……………

Ma Lir was enjoying his freedom. He had been walking around the Water Tribe, checking out its inhabitants for two hours. The wolf could feel the human’s body getting tired, but his spirit was too alive and eager to move to care.

He was getting hungry, though, and he thought about returning back to the human’s place. Ma Lir was reluctant to do that, since it would also entail pretending to be the human again.

“Hey, Wolf!” a small voice called.

Ma Lir ignored it, partially forgetting that he was being Wolf, and partially not caring. A little boy ran up, smiling and laughing. He looked confused at being so pointedly ignored, so he latched on to Ma Lir’s pant leg and tugged at it. The cold look that the child received caused him to shrink back a little. Being young, it didn’t faze him long.

“Hey, Wolf, wait up,” the kid called, following. “You know, Mommy decided that you weren’t bad. You see, I told her that story that you told us, only I left out a lot of it, because I couldn’t really remember all of the details. And I changed the ending a little, because I don’t think Mommy would have liked the end that you said. She was mad at me for going against what she wanted, but this time when Papa said that it was ok, she said it was too.

“Then I told her about how you were walking funny because you got hurt, and she said that she could take a look at it. My mommy’s a healer and all, so…you can go see her if you want.”

“Kid, let me ask you something. Do you have a death wish or something?” Ma Lir growled, glaring down at the little boy.

The kid stopped, hunkering down slightly. “A death wish? I don’t really think I know what that is, I don’t think I have it.”

“Then keep the hell away from me.”

Ma Lir turned quickly away from the little pest. The little boy sat and pondered what a “the hell” was. Unable to figure it out, he sat and started to cry.

Someone put a hand on his shoulder, and the boy looked into the kind old face of Wolf’s friend.

“Now, now Shiro. There’s no need to cry,” Iroh soothed.

“But…but…Wolf said that I had to stay away unless I had a death wish. And…And…what’s a 'the hell'?”

“It will be all right. That was not Wolf who was talking.”

“If it’s not Wolf, who is it? It looked just like him. Where’s Wolf?”

“The real Wolf is sleeping right now,” Iroh barely avoided pausing to think. “What was just talking to you was an evil monster that takes the form of people we know. It’s a very bad monster, but do not worry. I can take care of it.”

“You’ll take out a monster?” the boy exclaimed, all thoughts of tears evaporating. “Cool! Can I watch?”

“That would not be a good idea. If the monster sees you when I ‘take it out’, and then it might take the shape of your mother or father and torment you. I cannot allow that.”

“Aw. Ok. You teach that monster a lesson for acting like Wolf,” the little kid punched the air, excited, and ran off.

Iroh watched the kid leave, a wistful expression in his eyes. He shook his head sadly before going after his main goal.

“Wolf,” Iroh called. He allowed a small bit of anger into his voice.

Ma Lir turned an angered glare to the person who had called him. The kid had pissed him off. He didn’t feel like even pretending to be that human any more. “What do you want, old man?”

“I wanted to talk with you.”

“Well, maybe I don’t want to talk to you? What do you think about that?”

“What did you do to Wolf?”

“What do you mean? What, you don’t know his history or something? That sucks for you.”

“That would mean that you are the wolf spirit that possessed him.”

“That took a lot of brain power to figure out.”

“Give him back.”

“Hm…” Ma Lir put on a thoughtful façade. He glared back and seriously continued, “No. Why don’t you try and make me?”

Iroh walked up to Wolf’s counterpart and punched him right below the ribs. Ma Lir wouldn’t have felt the blow if it had been a normal human, but Iroh had had dealings with the other world before. That small bit of experience was enough. Ma Lir felt his control slipping and finally, he lost it completely.

……………

Wolf had been dozing in the darkness. He didn’t know how long he had been there. The darkness was eternal, and it could go on forever. It was an endless time of lying around in the darkness, waiting for something to happen.

Wolf felt something familiar cut through the darkness and was surprised. It was a person he knew. He sat up to get a better look. Slowly the darkness started to lighten and Wolf could see a shape moving towards him.

So, Wolf called out, addressing the shape as the person he had felt. “Iroh?”

This got a snap of a laugh out of the shape. Wolf’s world grew brighter, and he saw Ma Lir walking towards him. “What the hell do you think?”

“Ma Lir,” Wolf corrected himself.

Ma Lir gave his human counterpart a strange look. He was used to hearing a pathetic human talk to him. This time, Moltov almost seemed confident. Ma Lir could find no way to contend with it, was even unsure if the confidence was even there, so he brushed it off. “Damn, that old man punches hard,” Ma Lir muttered, turning away from Wolf.

“Iroh?” Wolf asked.

“Hell if I know. Humans suck. It’s not my job to keep track of them.”

They were silent for a while.

“Hey, Ma Lir, I was thinking,” Wolf started.

Ma Lir turned to glare slightly at Moltov. “What the hell were you thinking about?”

“In the darkness, I had plenty of time to think. I thought about what you said, about the Avatar. You were right.”

“Damn straight I was.”

Wolf ignored Ma Lir’s prideful statement. “You said I just gave up. You were right. I did. I realized that. Now, I don’t want to give up.”

“Now you’re acting all heroic. That’s sickening.”

“I’m not trying to be a hero. I just don’t want to disappoint the people that are close to me. My pack.”

Ma Lir made a disgusted face. “Now you’re using terms I know. That’s even more sickening.”

“I want to go back, Ma Lir.” Wolf stood, keeping his eyes on Ma Lir.

Ma Lir whipped around, growling. “You think simple words are enough to convince me that you’ve changed? I know humans well enough to know they don’t mean what they say. They don’t change just like that.”

“I’m ready to continue what I was doing. I will fulfil your goal to take down the Fire Lord.”

“I don’t think you can hack it!” Ma Lir snapped. He lashed out with his claws as well as the words, catching the human across the chest. As the human fell forward, he turned. That didn’t feel as good as it had earlier. What was wrong with him?

Wolf took a few seconds, contending with the pain. When he finally had it under control he stood up again. “Listen Ma Lir. I will do what we decided I would. I will.”

“Yeah, right,” Ma Lir bit back without turning.

“What is it that you really want?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“It’s not just about the Fire Lord. You want something.”

“Why the hell do you care. Go back to being a selfish human, Moltov.”

“What’s going on with you?”

Ma Lir turned to face his human counter part, glaring slightly. “I don’t know. There’s something wrong with me. I want to go back to my world. I want to be able to be with my pack. How come I’m stuck here alone?”

“You’re…feeling lonely. Lonely and maybe even a little jealous.”

“The hell? Humans feel. That’s not me.”

“It’s all right to feel, Wolf Spirit.”

“Don’t wanna,” Ma Lir turned.

“Well, I don’t want to stay here. Let me go back to my pack. Please Ma Lir. I miss them.”

“Let you go so you can run off and do your own thing?”

“No. I’ll go up against the Avatar if I have to, but I will see to the demise of the Fire Lord.”

“You can’t go up against anything with your knee so screwed up.”

“What? Where’d…”

“Don’t think I didn’t notice that. Walking sucked. You can’t transform with that kind of problem, or you fuck it up more.”

“I know that.”

“That one kid said his mom didn’t hate you anymore. Go see her and get it fixed.”

“Ma Lir…”

“You’d better leave now before I change my mind.” Ma Lir gestured off to the direction he had come from. “Just remember, if you fail, I’m going to kill you.”

“Thank you.”

“Keh.”

Wolf took off in the direction the Wolf Spirit had indicated. A bright light surrounded him slowly. Wolf closed his eyes against it so he wouldn’t be blinded.

……………

Wolf opened his eyes and was greeted by darkness. He panicked; convincing himself Ma Lir had gone back on his word. Wolf struggled to free himself of the oppressing darkness.

Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right. Easy.”

Wolf froze. “Iroh?”

“Yes. I am here.”

Wolf fell towards the voice. His hand made contact with resistance, with cloth over human. “Iroh, you’re real.” Wolf left his hand on Iroh’s shoulder and sagged against it.

“Yes, Wolf.”

“Thank goodness. I was so scared.”

Iroh recalled a night when Lu Ten had done something a lot like this. He patted Wolf’s shoulder, just as he had done those long years ago, and murmured the same consolidations. “There is nothing wrong with being scared of the dark.”

“I’m not scared of the dark. I’m not even scared of what’s in it. I’m scared that there is nothing in it. When I’m there, I’m scared of becoming nothing myself.”

“It will be all right.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“Welcome back, Wolf.”

“Yeah. I’m back.” They were quiet for a moment until Wolf spoke again. “Thanks Iroh.”

Iroh didn’t reply. Wolf fell asleep where he was, and Iroh resituated him so that he could sleep comfortably. Iroh watched Wolf sleep for a moment. He was deeply reminded of Lu Ten. It was a depressing thought. He turned and left the room.

“Is everything all right, Uncle?” Zuko asked. He was standing to one side of the door.

“Yeah. Is it really Wolf this time?” Jin asked from the other side.

“Yes. I believe everything will be fine.”

……………

……………

Chapter 16 – END

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